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Flow in Learning

Imagine a world where time in the classroom flies. Students understand and engage in the information presented. They are not distracted by other students in the class, and most importantly, enjoy what they are learning. Sounds too good to be true?

What if we were to tell you that there is a way to foster this experience–both at home and at school. Where the onus isn’t solely on the teacher/parent. Instead, the students have the power to optimise their own experience and facilitate flow.

Below, we look at how we can make this happen.

  • Q1. What is flow?

  • Q2. What are the benefits of finding flow in education?

  • Q3. How do the characteristics of flow interact with the learning environment?

  • Q4. How can flow be increased in an educational environment?


Q1. What is flow?

The term ‘flow’ is well established with over 40 years of research within psychology, physiology and neuroscience. Flow is an optimal state of functioning where there is total concentration on the task at hand and total absorption to the task within the moment. The present-focus replaces any self-concern, and the student enjoys an inherent enjoyment of the moment. The experience feels effortless, and we are able to execute the exact skill required with complete control.

If you want to know more, please look at our FREE introduction to flow.

Q2. What are the benefits of finding flow in education?

Flow is more acknowledged during acts of excellence in pressured situations, like a high performance in an examination. But flow can also occur in everyday learning experiences.

Previous research suggests that finding flow in education induces the short term benefits of enjoyment, gratification, and a sense of mastery from learning tasks, for both teachers and students. Longer term benefits include academic confidence, a desire to seek further education, and a predictor of future academic performance.

The process of seeking flow induces a growth principle. The student grows, develops and fulfils their potential by constantly extending themselves beyond their perceived ability (due to the nature of pursuing flow states). This 'stretching' process of exploring one's learning ability, feels so good, regardless of the outcome, that the student is compelled to repeat this experience enabling continuous growth. Which is why finding oneself in an optimal state of functioning frequently is also positively correlated with well-being.

As well as well-being flow fosters motivation and creativity, but perhaps most importantly, a sustainable performance. When students are able to find flow at school, learning becomes a rich and meaningful experience, helping them to digest more information and increase their motivation towards their studies.

Q3. How do the characteristics of Flow interact with the learning environment?

In a classroom setting, the main goal is to create an optimal learning environment that can then enable flow. Optimal learning environments are those that support a state of flow with the culture, level of challenge of the content, usbaility of materials, and momentary distractions (or lack thereof) in the process of learning.

Clear goals, immediate feedback, optimal levels of challenge, intrinsically motivated approaches, cognitive absorption, time transformation, loss of self-consciousness and the student's ability to experience autotelic learning experiences can all play a pivotal role within the classroom context. Fro example:

  • Cognitive absorption is an increase in concentration and immersion in the task. This can be experienced by being transfixed in a particular topic of interest.

  • Time transformation is an alteration in the perception of time, often leading to a lengthened duration of immersion in the task. Students will not be acutely aware of the time (i.e., lunch breaks) when in flow.

  • A loss of self-consciousness or lack of self-concern is emphasised by a heightened awareness of the importance of the social aspect of learning.

  • An autotelic experience refers to an intrinsically motivating and rewarding experience where individuals engage for the pleasure of learning, nothing more. This type of motivation enhances persistence and the desire to engage in the activity again.

Q4. How can Flow be increased in an educational environment?

The state of flow can be fostered by manipulating the individual’s culture, context and level of self-management.

An in depth understanding requires some focused attention, and those interested may want to enquire about our ‘Learn and Flow’ programme dedicated for educational contexts.

From an individual level, self-management is critical. An individual’s ability to be self-efficacious about their skills directly affects their ability to meet the challenge and enter a state of flow. Confident individuals approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered, rather than as threats to be avoided. So setting up the classroom, whether physical or virtual, soft or hard skills, and helping students to self-regulate their perspective when meeting a challenge, can have a huge impact on whether the students may find flow or not.

This is just a blog, so we cannot give a comprehensive account of flow in learning, but hopefully this has ignited some curiosity and thirst for further information.

Importantly, flow is accessible to any person in any field. The difficulty that most individuals’ face is persisting with the pursuit of flow and not becoming sidetracked by other agendas that may seem more 'important' on the surface.

To leave you with a thought – harness the yearn to learn!

If you are interested in learning and cultivating flow into your learning experiences, the Flow Centre offers one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online training for flow in schools, updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research.


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